Eco-briefs | New University of Colorado study shows biodiversity protects against disease

CU researchers collect amphibians.
Photo courtesy of Dave Herasimtschuk / Freshwaters Illustrated

Biodiversity has become an increasingly important topic among scientists studying infectious disease, but can be tricky to test because of the complexity of ecosystems.

The National Geographic Society funded a research project at the University of Colorado that was designed to further understanding of the correlation between biodiversity and disease.

CU-Boulder graduate students tackled this problem by studying smaller ecosystems such as ponds, and visited more than 365 of them in the California area over a span of three years, recording the types of amphibians and snails present, and whether they were infected by pathogens. The results showed that ponds with half a dozen amphibian species had a 78 percent reduction in parasite transmission compared to ponds with just one amphibian species.

One researcher says the same pattern — of less diverse communities being made up of species that are more susceptible to disease — may play out in complex ecosystems as well.

“This research reaches the surprising conclusion that the entire set of species in a community affects the susceptibility to disease,” said Doug Levey, program director in the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology, which helped fund the research.

Overall, the findings strengthen the idea that biodiversity in various ecosystems, including forests and grasslands, may provide protection against disease, including those that attack humans.

— Cayte Bosler


A growing disconnect between children and nature prompted the Nature Explore program to develop classrooms for children based on direct engagement with nature and has certified Anythink Wright Farms, located in Thornton, as a Nature Explore Classroom. Nature Explore classrooms are overseen by the Arbor Day Foundation, a nonprofit conservation and education organization, in partnership with Dimensions Education Research Foundation.

“Anythink Wright Farms has shown tremendous leadership in growing the next generation of environmental stewards,” Susie Wirth, Nature Explore outreach director, said in a press release. “Their commitment to providing research-based and nature-rich learning offers a wonderful example to educators throughout the country.”

The farm joins an established network of organizations and schools that have created alternative curriculum proven to be effective in educating children about the environment. The classrooms include natural materials to use in building and art projects, musical instruments made of natural materials and gardens or pathway areas.

— Cayte Bosler